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Excerpt from


The Wisdom of No Escape


Pema Chödrön

Spacer There's a common misunderstanding among all the human beings who have ever been born on the earth that the best way to live is to try to avoid pain and just try to get comfortable. You can see this even in insects and animals and birds. All of us are the same.

Spacer A much more interesting, kind, adventurous, and joyful approach to life is to begin to develop our curiosity, not caring whether the object of our inquisitiveness is bitter or sweet. To lead a life that goes beyond pettiness and prejudice and always wanting to make sure that everything turns out on our own terms, to lead a more passionate, full, and delightful life than that, we must realize that we can endure a lot of pain and pleasure for the sake of finding out who we are and what this world is, how we tick and how our world ticks, how the whole thing just is. If we're committed to comfort at any cost, as soon as we come up against the least edge of pain, we're going to run; we'll never know what's beyond that particular barrier or wall or fearful thing.

Spacer When people start to meditate or to work with any kind of spiritual discipline, they often think that somehow they're going to improve, which is a sort of subtle aggression against who they really are. It's a bit like saying,

"If I jog, I'll be a much better person."
"If I could only get a nicer house, I'd be a better person."
"If I could meditate and calm down, I'd be a better person."
Or the scenario may be that they find fault with others; they might say, "If it weren't for my husband, I'd have a perfect marriage."
"If it weren't for the fact that my boss and I can't get on, my job would be just great."
And "If it weren't for my mind, my meditation would be excellent."

Spacer But loving-kindness -maitri- toward ourselves doesn't mean getting rid of anything. Maitri means that we can still be crazy after all these years. We can still be angry after all these years. We can still be timid or jealous or full of feelings of unworthiness. The point is not to try to change ourselves. Meditation practice isn't about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It's about befriending who we are already. The ground of practice is you or me or whoever we are right now, just as we are. That's the ground, that's what we study, that's what we come to know with tremendous curiosity and interest.

Spacer Sometimes among Buddhists the word ego is used in a derogatory sense, with a different connotation than the Freudian term. As Buddhists, we might say, "My ego causes me so many problems." Then we might think, "Well, then, we're supposed to get rid of it, right? Then there'd be no problem." On the contrary, the idea isn't to get rid of ego but actually to begin to take an interest in ourselves, to investigate and be inquisitive about ourselves. The path of meditation and the path of our lives altogether has to do with curiosity, inquisitiveness. The ground is ourselves; we're here to study ourselves and to get to know ourselves now, not later.

Spacer People often say to me, "I wanted to come and have an interview with you, I wanted to write you a letter, I wanted to call you on the phone, but I wanted to wait until I was more together." And I think, "Well, if you're anything like me, you could wait forever!" So come as you are. The magic is being willing to open to that, being willing to be fully awake to that. One of the main discoveries of meditation is seeing how we continually run away from the present moment, how we avoid being here just as we are. That's not considered to be a problem; the point is to see it.

Spacer Inquisitiveness or curiosity involves being gentle, precise, and open - actually being able to let go and open. Gentleness is a sense of goodheartedness toward ourselves. Precision is being able to see very clearly, not being afraid to see what's really there, just as a scientist is not afraid to look into the microscope. Openness is being able to let go and to open.

Spacer The effect of this month of meditation that we are beginning will be as if, at the end of each day, someone were to play a video of you back to yourself and you could see it all. You would wince quite often and say "Ugh!" You probably would see that you do all those things for which you criticize all those people you don't like in your life, all those people that you judge. Basically, making friends with yourself is making friends with all those people too, because when you come to have this kind of honesty, gentleness, and goodheartedness, combined with clarity about yourself, there's no obstacle to feeling loving-kindness for others as well. So the ground of maitri is ourselves. We're here to get to know and study ourselves. The path, the way to do that, our main vehicle, is going to be meditation, and some sense of general wakefulness.

Spacer Our inquisitiveness will not be limited just to sitting here; as we walk through the halls, use the lavatories, walk outdoors, prepare food in the kitchen, or talk to our friends - whatever we do- we will try to maintain that sense of aliveness, openness, and curiosity about what's happening. Perhaps we will experience what is traditionally described as the fruition of maitri - playfulness. So hopefully we'll have a good month here, getting to know ourselves and becoming more playful, rather than more grim.

Spacer Pema Chödrön   Pema Chödrön
From 'The Wisdom of No Escape and the Path of Loving-Kindness'

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